HIGH-profile terror attacks and the brutal murder of soldier Lee Rigby have left Muslims in Bristol feeling more vulnerable than at any time in the last 50 years.
According to long-time community leader and former politician Abdul Malik, the city’s fast-growing Muslim population feels under siege. But he believes the decision to appoint him as chairman of the city’s largest mosque is a major statement of intent from his community.
The election of the former councillor His election to the management board of the Easton Jamia Mosque is the first time a British-born Muslim has been handed such a major responsibility.
And the former city councillor believes the move is crucial in the move to defend his religion from outside criticism and to keep younger members from falling into the clutches of militants.
“This is a massive move for a mosque in Bristol and I think it is the first time this has happened in the city,” Mr Malik said.
“You have to remember that the mosques were set up when people first came to this country more than 40 years ago from countries such as Pakistan.
“They were very different times and the mosques were set up by people who were new to this country and had a very different set of experiences.
“To be asked to run the mosque is a great honour and is a very big move forward for the community. We will be taking a very different approach based around our experiences.”
The Easton Mosque is one of the most prominent in the city and it prides itself on its links to the local community and its multi- culturalism.
The mosque on St Marks Road is right in the centre of Bristol’s largest Asian community and also has strong links to the local business community.
The 39-year-old set up a Halal butchery business, Pak Butchers, which now has seven shops, and was also an active politician, but in recent years his religion has come to play a much more important part in his life.
He has handed over the management of his business to relatives and taken a step back from politics to play a more active role in the Easton community.
His faith has also become more important to him and he regularly prays.
He said: “There is no doubt that it has become tougher than ever to be a Muslim in this country. Obviously, things were really difficult after September 11 and the community felt under siege.
“The murder of Lee Rigby and events such as the attack in Kenya have made things really tough, Muslims do feel like they have to justify themselves and their religion.
“We also need to be more open and we need to be able to show that the Muslim religion is one of peace and not one of hatred.”
Abdul does not regret his time in politics but is now more than happy to concentrate his efforts and time on his community and the mosque.
He added: “I could have moved out of the Easton area but we decided we wanted to stay put. I like being a part of the community, there is always something going on and there is always someone to speak to.
“Being part of the community is really important to me and that is part of the reason why I agreed to get involved with the mosque.”
He said: “This was a really big step for the mosque to take, it is very big break with tradition.
“To be honest I never expected this to happen and when I got the phone call I was stunned, they have placed an incredible amount of trust in me and I feel very privileged.”
THE YOUNGER GENERATION
ABDUL believes there needs to be a focus for younger Muslims living in Bristol.
He said: “There are many younger people out there who have no real focus or help. They are looking for something and mosques like ours have a responsibility to the younger generation.
“We need to be open and welcoming so young people can come to us for guidance and help, at the moment they have no one to help them or guide them.
“Young people tend to learn about their religion from the internet and they have nowhere to go to for guidance or help. We want a mosque that is open and welcoming, somewhere where people can just come along and talk.”
BEING INVOLVED IN POLITICS
“WHEN I was involved in politics it made me feel very uneasy, I was not sure I could make that much difference and I always felt slightly patronised.
“The fact that I was an Asian was always brought up whenever I was mentioned and it made me feel like the token ethnic minority representative.
“It shouldn’t matter, if we were really living in a multicultural society then why did my background have to be talked about every time my name was mentioned?”